The board of directors of the California Republican Party last night joined the growing list of influential state party organizations to support actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Oct. 7 recall election of Gov. Gray Davis.
After a closed-door meeting, the board unanimously backed Mr. Schwarzenegger despite the presence of a second Republican candidate, state Sen. Tom McClintock, on the ballot.
“Arnold has a proven ability to connect with voters to solidify the Republican base while reaching out to Democrats and independents and to excite new voters,” state party Chairman Duf Sundheim said. “This is an unprecedented vote for our party, but this is an unprecedented election.”
The executive board had previously avoided endorsing a candidate, but as Vice Chairman Martha House said bluntly: “Contrary to popular belief, we do want to win.”
McClintock campaign spokesman John Stoos yesterday accused the state GOP of not having the courage to make the endorsement in an intraparty contest during last week’s state convention.
“They couldn’t do it when the convention was taking place and everyone was watching, so they had to cut a backroom deal,” Mr. Stoos said, adding that Mr. McClintock remains determined to stay in the race.
“It certainly has no impact on what we want to do,” Mr. Stoos said.
Earlier yesterday, the Republican leader in the state Assembly, Dave Cox, announced his endorsement of Mr. Schwarzenegger, saying, “He is the only candidate who can defeat the Davis-Bustamante machine.”
A McClintock campaign source said that the candidate, who has come under increasing pressure to bow out of the race and clear the Republican field for Mr. Schwarzenegger, realizes that he probably won’t win, but that he won’t hurt Mr. Schwarzenegger’s campaign if he remains in the race.
“Being perfectly honest, people now are realizing that it’s Arnold’s, and we can come in second and beat Bustamante, too,” he said.
A CNN/USA Today poll released Sunday showed 63 percent of probable voters support booting Mr. Davis from office. Mr. Schwarzenegger was the choice to replace Mr. Davis of 40 percent of those surveyed, giving the action-film star a 15-point lead over Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
The percentage of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s support has surged since previous polls showed him with around 25 percent, a few points behind Mr. Bustamante as a replacement. Internal polls by the candidates show a surge by Mr. Schwarzenegger, but not to the extent of the CNN poll, campaign insiders said.
Mr. McClintock had the support of 18 percent of probable voters, a figure that he has not moved from in several weeks.
Mr. Schwarzenegger, according to the poll, would beat Mr. Bustamante 58 percent to 26 percent if Mr. McClintock were to withdraw. However, the poll also showed that if Mr. Schwarzenegger were to cede to Mr. McClintock, the staunch conservative would also beat Mr. Bustamante, with 56 percent of the vote compared with the lieutenant governor’s 37 percent.
With the campaign heading into its final week, Mr. Davis and Mr. Schwarzenegger have aimed their campaign barbs directly at each other.
Mr. Davis, a notoriously negative campaigner, began running television advertisements this week attacking Mr. Schwarzenegger — a departure from his weeks-long strategy of letting his actions on the job speak for themselves.
“Have questions about Arnold Schwarzenegger?” said the ad, aired on statewide television yesterday. “So do a lot of people. He ducks tough questions, didn’t vote in 13 of the last 21 elections, and now he refuses to debate the governor he’s trying to replace.”